A petition to change the form of government which Van Alstyne operates under has been submitted to City Hall.
The petition "to Abandon City Manager Form of Government," was submitted by resident Pat Patterson and contained more than 100 signatures. According to Chapter 277 of the Texas Election Code, at least 20 percent of those registered to vote in the last mayoral election would be required for the petition to be a valid one. The magic number for Van Alstyne then would be 68, a number which the petition far surpassed.
However, a snafu will keep the question of mayor or city manager out of residents’ hands until at least November as it turned out the petition was invalid as it was not dated. The election code states that each signature must include the date of signing which the submitted petition did not.
The submission to City Hall on that Friday was in an attempt to get it on the May 10 election ballot. However, the Tribune has been informed that a new petition will be circulated in the city in an attempt to get the issue on the November election ballot.
Van Alstyne operates under a council-manager form of government, effectively known as a city manager form of government. Though it doesn’t expressly state so in the petition the abandonment of the council-manager form of government would lead to a strong-mayor form of mayor-council government by default.
In the strong-mayor form of government the mayor of a city is akin to the chief executive officer of a large company and operates as the budgetary officer of the city. The mayor has the greatest amount of power in this form of government. The mayor would have the power to appoint and remove most department heads and he or she carries an effective veto power. All city staff would report to the mayor. Additionally, under this form of government the mayor would have the ability to have someone arrested under certain provisions and be responsible as the city’s emergency management coordinator in times of disaster and provided with the authority to close public buildings in times of riot.
Interestingly, the mayor under this form of government could draw a salary, something which a mayor under the council-manager can not do.
What power does the council have then? According to the Texas Municipal League handbook, "the degree of flexibility the council permits the mayor to exercise in administrative matters varies from one city to another." The council can expect the mayor to make routine decisions only as authorized by city ordinance or give that position essentially free administrative rein.
One thing is certain: voters in November could have a weighty decision on their hands.
"If the petition was valid and ended up on the ballot and the citizens chose to return to a strong mayor form of government it would mean that the majority of decisions and administrative authority would return to the mayor," said Van Alstyne City Manager Frank Baker.
As for the city manager should this happen, Baker explained that it was his understanding this would be left in the hands of the council. He could be terminated or appointed as the city administrator, though a city administrator is not required under the strong-mayor form of government.
This isn’t the first time a petition has been filed to return to a strong-mayor form of government. The election to change back to a city manager form of government was held February 1, 2003, at which point the majority of Van Alstyne residents voted in favor of having a city manager. A petition to abandon that form of government was submitted to the city secretary on October 4, 2005 for the May 13, 2006 election. Van Alstyne voters once again decided to stick with their city manager.